Dana Loomis, American (19?? - 1990)

Dana Loomis

From the 1960s until 1990, Ohio University's art program boasted a nationally renowned abstract expressionist-cum-surrealist with galleries in New York City. Now, almost 14 years after Dana Loomis' death, OU's School of Art is holding a retrospective exhibit sampling the life's work of the artist.

Ron Kroutel, OU art professor and close colleague of Loomis, was instrumental in organizing the exhibit. He said Loomis' paintings won't just draw intellectuals and artists at the university, but will also appeal to the Athens community. ""I think the show is not only for the people in the School of Art, it's also for the wider Athens community,"" he said. ""Shakespeare always said his plays should appeal to the beer-drinkers in the front row -- I think Loomis' paintings have that quality.""

Indeed, Loomis' oil paintings do have a populist appeal. The crisp and stunning realism might leave even the most jaded art critic in awe, and the careful arrangement of metaphorical objects leave inevitable echoes in the subconscious.

Consider, for instance, Loomis' ""Four Ages of Man,"" on display at the OU Art Gallery in Seigfred Hall. The picture shows an open closet with an army jacket, a business suit, a university team pennant, and a baby's hat and pacifier. Each fold in the fabric and shadow on the shelves is photographically accurate, yet the angles and arrangement of the still-life objects follow the same composition used by abstract artists like Piet Mondrian -- the man who painted those sleek pictures composed of big red, blue, yellow and white tiles. Loomis, in fact, began his career as an abstract expressionist in the school of the famous American painter William DeKooning, under whom he studied at Yale.

Seigfred's exhibit samples Loomis' early abstract work as well, the most gripping of which is ""Group Forms,"" which he finished in 1961. This painting, though initially appearing as simply obsessive smears of paint, reveals itself to be an intensely sexual painting upon further examination. The swoops and scrawls of paint form the almost-figures of naked women -- or at least squirming and suggestive organic forms.
Kroutel said Loomis' paintings were not difficult to organize because many locals own Loomis originals. Many come from the private collection of his widow, Gloria Loomis, while others belong to professors or other Athens residents.

Kroutel also expressed surprise that the art school didn't act sooner to honor its deceased professor -- they simply hired a replacement. ""When he died, they didn't really do anything,"" he said. ""I thought it was odd that the school would act like a corporation.""
But Kroutel commended the school for its support when he brought up the idea of a Loomis retrospective, allocating money to print a color pamphlet for the exhibit. A graphic design student in the School of Art laid out the publication, and it contains reproductions of Loomis' work along with commentary from Kroutel describing Loomis' career. ""He and I were close colleagues for 25 to 30 years,"" Kroutel explained. ""(Loomis) was quite a bit older than me, but we shared the same attitude toward art.""
Kroutel's essay describes Loomis' transition to realism with works such as ""Pharos #1: Greece,"" which appears at the gallery. Loomis, in this painting, makes no attempt at realism, but he is beginning to use representation to convey his ideas while still retaining his abstract composition.

Most of Loomis' canvases on display, however, sample the artist's realistic work. Some of the most impressive are those that depict a carefully positioned canvas arranged before an open door or window. The paintings on the canvases complete the landscapes outside -- a quote from the surrealist vocabulary of Renee Magritte. ""Mirror Image,"" painted in 1986, uses this device, as do several other paintings in the retrospective.
Loomis' admiration of Mondrian is also a theme throughout the show. Works such as ""Formal Devices,"" ""Bloody Mary Morning"" and ""The Four Humors"" all have the same strong, linear composition and repeating planes of red, blue and yellow.

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